The sound of machinegun fire in the distance had become a constant reminder of the Ardennes Counteroffensive as the squad moved through the forest. After the recent push by the 212 Volksgrenadiers the platoon had been routed and struggled to rally back into position, even after the Nazis were pushed back to their lines. Enough soldiers had been found to quantify as a squad, although they were beyond lost by this point. Staff-Sergeant Summers had tried to have the squad head back the way they came, although that was quickly stopped when they met a panzer tank that immediately took offence to their presence.
Bullets tore through the frozen air, snapping past heads and whipping past bodies as the group of soldiers dove for cover, plumes of snow flying into the air. Abel had taken a shot to the leg and had fallen, only to be killed when Edward stopped to pull him to his feet. The MG42 roared and both soldiers fell to the ground as the rest of the squad retreated into the whitewashed forest, deeper into enemy held territory. They had tried to break through several times, and every time they had been pushed back, losing soldiers with each attempt.
Summers, now the de-facto sergeant of the squad- considering that they came from two different companies- pushed the men forward, holding his own Thompson firmly in his frozen fingers as they stomped through the snow. Sergeant Kalvin and PFC Rook had taken point, leading the rest through the foggy forest as they tried to find a weak point in the German lines. If they could find a break, or at the very least get to a spot that didn’t have a tiger tank waiting for them.
Gunfire echoed throughout the foggy wood as the squad pushed ahead, the ruckus sounding both near and far at the same time. Samson griped about the cold as his fingers clutched his Garand, and Summers agreed silently. If anything, it felt colder than it had in his foxhole that morning.
“Sarge, do you know where we are,” Rook had asked Sergeant Kalvin at one point. “All these trees look the same.”
“No clue, private,” Kalvin returned before tossing the question to Summers. “Do you have any clue?”
“Not really. Lieutenant Freeman had the map and compass last I saw, although that ninety-day wonder probably lost both during the last push,” Summers grumbled sourly.
“Jesus, why couldn’t we have gotten lost with an eagle scout,” Rook continued to bitch and moan. “At least he’d know where we are.”
“Hey, Rook,” Private Tollen called from behind. “Why don’t you fill out a T.S. slip and send it to the chaplain? You’re going to give us away if some kraut hears you.”
Rook shot Tollen a dirty look but promptly shut his mouth. Everyone gave a small sigh of relief as they stomped through the cold powder on the ground. Everything came to a freezing halt when Kalvin stopped short and raised his fist up and to the side, prompting the squad to stop. Summers waved his hand down and kneeled as the rest of the squad did, eyes warily scanning the mist for movement. Tollen motioned for Rook to move up and the PFC slunk forward, rifle raised as he investigated what Tollen had seen.
Ten steps had brought him closer to the corner of a farmhouse. He turned and motioned for Tollen, who moved up as well before waving the rest of the squad up. The crunch of their boots sounded like a gunshot with every step as each man lined up along one side of the house, kneeling down as Tollen, Rook and Summers moved to investigate what was inside the house.
It wasn’t the best of ideas, to poke around houses behind enemy lines, but they needed a defensible position, either until the counteroffensive pushed into moving the lines east, or until they could recoup their strength and break through on their own. It took all of ten minutes to search, clear and occupy the house, soldiers quickly organized into guard details while the rest got off of their feet and checked their weapons, their fingers and feet for when they’d have to stand guard.
“Everyone seems alright,” Kalvin muttered as he and Summers stood to the side, both men checking their packs for a map or compass that they may have stashed and forgotten about. “No frostbite, at least.”
Summers nodded as he crossed his arms, frowning heavily. “For now, although we don’t know where we are, and we don’t have any supplies for an extended stay.”
Kalvin glanced back at PFC Samson and PFC Jamie as they rooted around their packs for something or another. “Do you think we’ll have to stay long?”
Summers shook his head. “I hope not, although I’d settle for not having to deal with a Nazi patrol.”
Kalvin nodded. “I did see something that looked like buildings further up the way. Village could have food and blankets, assuming we’re in the clear.”
“Maybe coffee,” Summers closed his eyes. “I’d kill for a cup of joe.”
“And I’d pull the trigger for you,” Kalvin patted Summers’ shoulder before heading for the window. “If we’re going to sneak a peek we’d better do it soon, unless tomorrow is a better idea.”
Summers rubbed at his chin and leaned against a table, almost completely sitting on it. “I don’t think some of these guys have eaten in a while. Two days at the most,” he sighed and pulled his helmet off, running his hand through his hair. “The sooner we can find food, or get back to our lines the better off we’ll be.”
Kalvin nodded, turning around and leaning against the wall. “Any idea who you want to send?”
Kalvin shook his head. “Not a clue. Could ask for volunteers, maybe.”
“And that leaves one of us to lead the expedition,” Summers plopped his helmet back on, the chin strap dangling in front of his cheeks. “I’ll go, you get some rest. You look like hell.”
Kalvin laughed softly. “Somehow I’ll try to get along without you, Sarge.”
“You too, Sarge,” Summers smiled before turning back to the cloister of soldiers.
“Alright, listen up,” Summers called out as Kalvin walked up to his side. “We may be staying here for a bit, and I doubt there’s enough food in this house for all of us. As a result, I’m going to be leading a small team out to see if the nearby houses have any provisions we can borrow. Food, water, blankets, anything we can use.”
“Those of you that are going on guard duty within the next two hours are exempt from this. The rest of you, we’re looking for volunteers, three max.”
The soldiers looked among one another. Of their group Samson, and Jamie were on guard duty, and Tollen was going to relieve one of them, leaving Holmes, Rook, Nimer and Kalvin. Holmes and Nimer raised their hands in compliance while Rook looked at Nimer.
“So you two and the sergeants go, right?”
Kalvin shook his head. “No, Holmes, Nimer and you go.”
“What, why me,” Rook looked offended. “Why do I have to go back out there?”
Summers sighed. “If Kalvin and I go out, that leaves Nimer in charge, and if he gets greased, then the command passes to you, Samson or Jamie. Besides, leaving Kalvin back here still leaves you all with someone who knows what they’re doing,” he winked as Holmes and Nimer let out a chuckle.
Rook opened his mouth but hesitated, seemingly considering what he was about to say before his lips found one another and he remained silent. Summers nodded before picking his Thompson from the table, looking at Rook before nodding.
“Empty your packs of everything but ammo. We’re going to need the space if we find anything edible.”
Holmes and Nimer nodded and got to work as Summers headed for the door, waiting for the trio to finish what they were doing. He tried to turn a blind eye as Rook picked a few things out of his pack before shouldering it again. For a First class private he acted like he was fresh out of boot, and not in the good way, although he was still a soldier and he’d follow directions when the heat got turned up.
Summers swallowed, frowning. He hoped he was right.